Choi again forced to face questioning about bribery

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Choi again forced to face questioning about bribery

Choi Soon-sil, the longtime friend of President Park Geun-hye who is mired in an influence-peddling scandal that has led to the president’s impeachment, was summoned for the second time by arrest warrant to the independent counsel on Wednesday over allegations that she took bribes in mediating a government project in Myanmar.

Arriving at the counsel’s office in Daechi-dong, southern Seoul, on Wednesday morning, Choi entered the office building without answering questions from reporters.

The local court had issued a second arrest warrant for Choi on Tuesday night after she refused to answer the counsel’s summons to interrogate her on the charge of accepting bribes for mediation.

Choi is alleged to have sought profits in an overseas development assistance project in Myanmar. The Korean government planned to invest some 76 billion won ($65.7 million) to build a commercial town in the Southeast Asian nation to assist Korean companies’ business there. The project was to be managed by the Mi-R Foundation, controlled by Choi. The project has been put on hold since August.

The counsel, in questioning on Tuesday Yoo Jae-kyung, Korea’s ambassador to Myanmar, discovered that Choi recommended Yoo to President Park so that he could be specially appointed by the president to become the ambassador to Myanmar.

Before the appointment, Yoo worked at the marketing and sales departments of Samsung Electro-Mechanics for 30 years, and his overseas postings with Samsung were all in Europe. He had never visited Myanmar before the appointment.

In the ongoing investigation into the corruption scandal, the Seoul Central District Court will be summoning as witnesses heads of conglomerates at the end of this month, to question them on the allegation that Choi abused her authority to coerce conglomerates to fund 77.4 billion won to two nonprofit organizations controlled by her. Choi was indicted in November for the power abuse charge.

The heads of conglomerates to be summoned as witnesses at Choi’s trial on Feb. 28 include SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won, Hanwha Group Chairman Kim Seung-youn and Hanjin Group Chairman Cho Yang-ho.

“Heads and executives of conglomerates have been selected by the prosecution as witnesses in December, and the court has accepted some of these requests,” said an official of the court.

Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin, Posco CEO Kwon Oh-joon and KT Chairman and CEO Hwang Chang-gyu were also selected as witnesses but their dates to appear at court have not been determined yet.

Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong was not requested as a witness, given that he is being investigated by the independent counsel over the allegation that Samsung bribed President Park through Choi in return for the state-run pension fund’s support for a merger to solidify Lee’s grip over the group.

BY ESTHER CHUNG, KIM SEON-MI[chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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